Chief Flynn: Officers did not appropriately respond to Derek Williams

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn acknowledged his officers didn't appropriately respond to 22-year-old Derek Williams before his death in the back of a squad car back in July of 2011. However, Flynn said MPD has changed police procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Williams died after he was picked up by Milwaukee police officers following a foot chase — suspected of an attempted robbery. Williams’ death was captured on a squad camera as he struggled to breathe for nearly 15 minutes without help. 

A Medical Examiner’s report originally indicated Williams’ cause of death as complications due to Sickle cell trait — but that report was amended, and the cause of death changed to homicide (death at the hands of another).

MPD and the Milwaukee County District Attorney concluded the officers involved did not break any rules. However, the two did call for an inquest into the Williams’ case.

A separate federal investigation into Williams' death has also been announced.

During a Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission meeting held Thursday, October 18th, Chief Flynn said officers faced a crisis when handling Williams.

"We weren't prepared. We didn't get it right. The officers did not appropriately respond to or diagnose what was a re-existing medical condition," Chief Flynn said.

Chief Flynn said there was a weakness in police policy because officers were not trained to specifically handle suspects with Sickle Cell Anemia.

"The officers spent 45 minutes doing CPR, but it was too late," Chief Flynn said.

Chief Flynn said in light of Williams' death, officers are now required to call an ambulance if a suspect asks for medical attention -- but that's not all.

"Recruits that are currently in service are receiving medical training to recognize respiratory distress," Chief Flynn said.

Attorney Jonathan Safran, who represents the Williams family says while he commends MPD's change of procedure, he feels Chief Flynn is making excuses.

"I'm surprised that there wasn't a policy or procedure that if someone was complaining about not being able to breathe, that the officer would have discretion about that. I'm not sure if you can train for all of those. It would just appear that it would be somewhat obvious that if someone is complaining they can't breathe, that emergency medical help be requested immediately," Safran said.

Chief Flynn said officers' training is good and even exceeded state standards. Chief Flynn says it's just a matter of adding more procedures to make sure there are no mishaps in the future.

Also Thursday, the Milwaukee County Board Committee on Judiciary, Safety and General Services took a resolution regarding the way Milwaukee County's Medical Examiner handles deaths occurring in police custody.

The Milwaukee County Board committee Thursday passed a resolution creating a new policy for all police-involved deaths, including who has the final say on the cause of death.

"To put new policy enhancements in place so that our Chief Medical Examiner has that final say on those high-profile cases that are police-involved deaths," Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen said.

The resolution must now be approved by the full Milwaukee County Board.